VATICAN CITY, NOV 28, 2007 (VIS) - Continuing his series of catecheses on Fathers of the Church, Benedict XVI today dedicated his general audience to the figure of St. Ephrem the Syrian, "the most famous poet of the patristic age." The audience was held in the Paul VI Hall in the presence of 8,000 people.
Before discussing St. Ephrem, the Pope remarked how "it is widely believed today that Christianity is a European religion which subsequently exported that continent's culture to other countries. But the truth is much more complex."
"The roots of the Christian religion," the Pope explained, "are in the Old Testament, hence in Jerusalem and the Semitic world. And Christianity constantly draws nourishment from these Old Testament roots. The spread of Christianity in the early centuries was directed both westwards - to the Greco-Latin world where it later inspired European culture - and eastwards to Persia and India, where it contributed to the formation of a specific culture, in Semitic languages and with its own identity."
Benedict XVI indicated that "in order demonstrate the one Christian faith's multiplicity of cultural form ever since its inception" he had chosen to focus his audience on St. Ephrem, a theologian and a poet who was born in Nisibis around the year 306 and died in Edessa in 373.
"Poetry," the Holy Father explained, "enabled him to deepen his theological reflections through the use of paradox and images."
"Ephrem gave poetry and liturgical hymns a didactic and catechetical character, ... so as to use liturgical feasts as opportunities to spread the doctrine of the Church."
Benedict XVI dwelt briefly on Ephrem's ideas concerning God the Creator, saying: "Nothing in the Creation is isolated and the world is - alongside Scared Scripture - a Bible of God. Using his freedom wrongly, man overturns the order of the universe."
For Ephrem, "Jesus' presence in Mary's womb greatly raised the dignity of women ... about whom he always speaks with sensitivity and respect," said the Pope. "Just as there is no Redemption without Jesus, so there is no Incarnation without Mary. And the divine and human dimensions of the mystery of our Redemption are already to be found in the saint's writings."
Honored in Christian tradition with the title of "harp of the Holy Spirit," Ephrem remained a deacon of the Church throughout his life. "This was a decisive and emblematic choice," said the Holy Father. "He was a deacon, in other words a servant in liturgical ministry and, more radically, in the love of Christ ... as well as in charity towards his brethren who, with great skill, he introduced to a knowledge of the divine Revelation."
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